Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mercedes E550 coupe feels like blast from past

Sacramento, California – Can high horsepower, ridiculous luxury and a boatload of safety/security systems buy happiness?

Yes, if you’re talking about the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550, a four-passenger coupe that brought back memories of robust M-Bs of yore.

Frankly, the car isn’t that much to look at, except the front end, with a wide-smiling grille, large integrated headlamps and a prominent Mercedes-Benz logo centered. But there are plenty of hot cars on the highway that will turn your quicker than the current E550.

From the cockpit, however, the E550 rises in class … and quickly.

The driver’s seat puts you in the lap of luxury, but you also get the sensation that you’ve strapped into the cockpit of stealth fighter jet. There’s a combo not easily pulled off.

Creature comforts abound with leather upholstery, a power/tilt/sliding sunroof, a blazing COMAND system anchored by eight speakers, 14-way power adjustable front seats and burled walnut trim.

Sweet, and secure too. Air bags surround all angles of the interior cabin (knee and pelvic bags are part of the package). They’re backed up by active head restraints, a driver-drowsiness monitor, a rollover sensor and Mercedes’ PRE SAFE system, which basically senses a collision before it happens and braces car and passengers accordingly.

It’s good to know that if you fall asleep or drive like an idiot that the car likely will save you. German engineering? Ja!

It’s all good sitting still. On the fly, the E550 is a heart-pumping thrill ride.

The 5.5-liter, 32-valve, V-8 engine churns out 382 horses and maxes 391 foot-pounds on the torque meter. Top torque rolls in as early as 2,800 revolutions per minute, which explains the 5-second zero-to-60 miles per hour clocking.

But it’s more than that. The seven-speed adaptive automatic transmission – you can operate it in clutchless-manual-style with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, by the way – just doesn’t quit on the quick trip up to 60 mph. It just keeps giving you more, seamlessly, to the point where you wonder if there is a top end. It’s a sensational rush.

Eighteen-inch all-season tires were nice and grippy, and the independent suspension system (front and rear) soaked up most of what the road had to offer, without being overly stiff. Perforated front brake discs with painted calipers did more than just look good. Stopping power was top-drawer, a thankful thing when I edged close to scaring myself on hard accelerations.

Happily, Mercedes-Benz seems to have a handle on the electrical glitches that were so annoying just a few years ago. I know M-B has packed a lot into its cars, but it used to be incredibly disheartening to have false-positive electrical warnings buzzing up in the message center. None of that happened this time around, and this E550 was packed with electric-dependent goodies. Kudos to Mercedes engineers on that score. I hope it holds up over the long-term.

In sum, the E550 comes off as a super-fun luxury coupe capable of stirring the souls of four passengers. It has the old Mercedes-Benz flash and dash, bolstered by state-of-the-art technology.

A nice mix starting at $54,000 and change.

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